The scenic drives in California are some of the best and most beautiful in the country. The landscape of the Golden State is very diverse-with many wide, sandy beaches, mountains, forest, and desert regions all within the state lines. Car travel (especially with a convertible) is a popular pastime in California and has been part of the West Coast Scene for many years. The best scenic drives in California are waiting for you this summer.
The Best Scenic Drives in California
California Dreaming on the Pacific Coast Highway
The ultimate California driving experience is on the Pacific Coast Highway. All along Highway 1, you will see the most spectacular coastal scenery from Southern California up to the San Francisco Bay area. This bucket list road trip spans a whopping 656 miles from Orange County to Mendocino County. The landscape and distinctive landmarks on this route define California. The numerous sites on this drive include stunning coastlines, the Hearst Castle, Monterey, San Francisco, plus much more.
Start on Highway 1 at any of the Los Angeles beach towns such as Laguna Beach, and head north. You can then spend some time in stunning Santa Barbara before continuing north on Highway 1. You will then pass by majestic Big Sur on your way to San Francisco. After driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, continue Highway 1 into Marin County. Be sure to stop and explore the beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore. The trip concludes after passing through Mendocino into Leggett.
See the Wine Country
This route begins and ends in San Francisco and does a loop through the stunning wine country. This road trip through Napa & Sonoma is 161 miles round trip, and it is perfect for a day or weekend excursion from San Francisco. All along this route are many places to see and things to do. These include Oxbow Public Market, Jack London State Historical Park, and many small wineries and quaint towns to explore.
From San Francisco, head north on Highway 121 towards Napa. You can make a stop at Vichy Springs or the Silverado Trail along the way. The Silverado Trail ends in Calistoga. Follow the winding Calistoga Road to Highway 12 to Sonoma.
Trek to A Volcano
Take a drive to see some spectacular mountain scenery and even volcanos! The drive starts in Redding and winds 188 miles through mountain country to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Along this route, you will be amazed at the peaks and volcanic rock of the surrounding mountains. Scenic highlights on this trip include Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Castle Crags State Park and Lake Almanor.
Begin your trip in Redding and head north on I-5 toward Shasta Lake. Head south on Highway 89, which is part of the 500-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. You may want to stop at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park along the way for a hike. Continue to Lassen Volcanic National Park to see these natural wonders in person.
See the Glorious Mountains at Big Bear
Southern California is full of breathtaking mountain scenery. One of the best routes to see these mammoth wonders is the Rim of the World Scenic Byway (State Highway 18). You begin your trip at Cajon Pass and travel the 117 miles into the wilderness and finish at wonderful Big Bear. As you drive past the ‘Alps of Southern California’, you may want to visit the town of Running Springs or see the view of the Pacific Ocean from Keller Peak Fire Lookout.
At Cajon Pass take State Highway 18 east towards the San Bernardino Mountains. If you wish to take a break, you can head up route 173 to Lake Arrowhead. After the lake head back on Highway 18 which eventually travels along Big Bear Lake and the town of Big Bear.
See Joshua Tree National Park
If you desire a desert drive for your California road trip, take this route. This road trip begins in San Diego and travels 290 miles through the glorious beauty of the California desert to Joshua Tree National Park. Along this route you will see rock formations, wildflowers, cactus forests and slot canyons. Take some time out to see the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument and Salvation Mountain, a large brightly painted piece of art.
From San Diego, take Highway 163 to Highway 78 toward Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. From the park, you can head north on Highway 79 to Palm Springs. Or, as an alternative, continue Palm Canyon Drive to visit the Salton Sea. After the visit to the sea, head to Slab City.
At Slab City, drive Highway 111 north to Palm Springs. Then you will follow Highway 10 toward Pioneer Town, then on to Joshua Tree National Park.
On you next trip out west, take a journey on one of the best scenic drives in California.
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